One night while I read aloud, she worked away on a Nutcracker scene in her room, placing a doll in a cradle as Princess Pirlipat, with a larger doll playing the role of Marie Stahlbaum nearby. A Yeoman of the Guard tree ornament played Nutcracker himself, and several other dolls and animals filled in the backdrop.
Now and then she paused from her work to study Maurice Sendak’s drawings. “He’s good,” she said solemnly. “He’s really good.”
As the story drew to a close, it became clear that Marie and Nutcracker, aka young Drosselmeier, had fallen in love. “In a year and a day he called for her in a golden carriage drawn by silver horses. At the wedding, two and twenty thousand of the most brilliant figures adorned with pearls and diamonds danced, and Marie is believed to be still the queen of a country where sparkling Christmas woods, transparent marzipan castles, in short, the most wonderful things, can be seen if you have the right kind of eyes for it.”
N does have the right kind of eyes, to a point. She has no problem with transparent marzipan castles, with dolls that come alive at night, with mice that have seven nasty heads, with towns made of candy, and sweet-toothed giants swallowing sweet towns whole, with cities made of gingerbread, and rivers made of honey, orange and lemonade, all emptying into Almond Milk Lake, where the plump little fish look just like hazelnuts. That houses are made from chocolate, roofed with gold, and trimmed with shelled almonds and candied lemon peel, is no surprise to her. Was Marie dreaming or was the world she traveled through (in a jewel-encrusted gondola drawn by golden dolphins) real? Either way, N accepted it.
But what was absolutely unfathomable — what yanked her right up off the page and straight out of this winter wonderland — was the news that Nutcracker and Marie would marry.
“What?!” she cried as I read the last words. “She’s seven! Mom! Marie is seven years old! She can’t get married!”
As Godfather Drosslemeier would say, “Stuff and nonsense!” Then and there, N was through with The Nutcracker, classic or no. But I suspect she’ll be drawn into its candy world once again next year.